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Quantifying the cost of education shortfalls November 29, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Economic Development, Education, Workforce.
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If you’ve never looked, Jack Schultz’s Boomtown USA blog is a gem.  As he travels the “agurbs” of the country to illustrate how the smallest of small towns and the most rural of rural towns have overcome self-imposed obstacles to develop their communities for both today and tomorrow, he posts his observations from the road on his blog.  Sometimes photos, sometimes first-person journal entries and sometimes bigger picture analysis extrapolating on conversations he’s had.

This entry is one of the latter – Schultz’s visit to Ponca City, Oklahoma uncovered some new data on workforce development…which dovetailed nicely with a talk that Cleveland’s Ed Morrison (workforce-ED expert and an occasional contributor to the always-interesting Brewed Fresh Daily blog) was giving.   An excerpt of Morrison’s comments (and Schultz’s commentary) follows:

“Each year over one third of our population is sent to economic poverty [by their dropping out of high school], which effectively permanently disables them for their entire lives. Yet we do little about it. We simply shrug our shoulders and say we ought to fix the system. That begs the question of, “Who makes up the WE in our society and why aren’t we freaking out over it?”

Morrison raised some interesting and alarming facts in his talk at the conference, “Dropping out of high school is a $300,000 loss in lifetime earnings and high school is no longer a ticket to a middle class lifestyle. Kids who can’t read by the third grade will probably drop out of school by the 12th. The high school graduation rate is the most important statistic for local economic development and rural areas are figuring this out much quicker than our cities.”

[Tim] Burg [of the Ponca City Development Authority] raises an important issue that is going to be of increasing concern in most communities. While I don’t agree that public education is a life sentence to degradation and poverty, I do believe that lack of education can put us as a nation at a disadvantage. Without education we are disabled, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. What are you doing in your community to ensure that education is being provided in its greatest capacity? Reform doesn’t happen from the top down, it starts at the individual.

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Utility worker shortage November 29, 2006

Posted by Tom in Economic Development, Workforce.
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Workforce Developments offers up a terrific summary of the current and projected shortage of electrical line workers across America.

This occupational area may be one of the “Holy Grails” of this weblog. As a high-wage, high-skilled, high-demand occupation, workforce development staffers should make training programs for this occupation a staple. From an economic development perspective, filling the pipeline of workers in this area makes sense because of the importance of a strong utility grid to ED efforts.

Lastly, this is a national issue – nearly everyone has a need for electricity. (With a friendly hat tip to our Amish friends…) Might the federal or state governments step up to address this critical shortage area?

Boise Young Professionals have the Mayor’s ear November 21, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community.
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I’ve heard a lot of good things about Boise, and items like this confirm my feeling that the town is taking the right steps not just for today but tomorrow:

Now is your chance to voice your opinion on issues affecting you. As a young professional in the Boise area, what needs do you have and how can your city’s Mayor help with these issues? Better yet, what can you do about it?

On Thursday, December 7, 2006 the Boise Young Professionals (BYP) will have an open forum for discussion with Boise’s Mayor Dave Bieter. Questions posted as comments on this blog will help determine the dialog for the event.

It’s one thing for a Young Professionals group to form and offer networking opportunities in the mode of a young person’s Chamber of Commerce.  It’s something altogether different for that group to leverage their position to promote positive change in a community.  The Boise Young Professionals appear to have the right mix – and clearly are at the Start of Something Important.

And let’s not forget the Mayor of Boise, who is wise enough to recognize the positive potential of engaging his City’s future leadership.

Ottawa, Canada and 5 US cities make the Intelligent Community Forum’s “Smart21” list November 21, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Technology.
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Congratulations to the Canadian capital city:

Ottawa-Gatineau has once again made the shortlist for a New York-based think tank that tries to identify the world’s most “intelligent” communities.

Each year, the Intelligent Community Forum identifies its Smart21 Communities, from which its Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year will be chosen.

The think tank’s agenda is to increase awareness of the role that broadband communication and information technology play in economic development, social cohesion and global growth.

The Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation spearheaded Ottawa-Gatineau’s application to the program and was required to “demonstrate how our community leaders – including politicians, civil servants, educators, business executives or non-profit executives – enable Ottawa-Gatineau to compete effectively in the broadband economy,” OCRI said in a release.

Each submission was judged in five categories: broadband infrastructure, knowledge workforce, innovation, digital democracy, and marketing.

In case the article goes into the digital ether, here’s the link to the list of the Smart21 cities. And take a look after the fold at a snapshot of America’s Smart 21 communities from the Intelligent CommunityForum’s site.

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Trend Watch: Economic Development Corps holding business plan competitions November 21, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Economic Development.
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One small trend that I’ve noticed in the last few months is that of LEDOs (Local Economic Development Organizations) leveraging their monies to challenge their community to come up with exciting new business plans for their communities. A recent example of this trend comes from Wisconsin:

The Economic Development Corporation of Manitowoc County is encouraging entre-preneurs to enter a regional business plan competition, offering $25,000 in cash prizes.

Business plans are a critical tool in the proper planning and launch of new ventures and are the preferred mode of communication between entrepreneurs, innovators and potential investors.

The goal of the contest is to encourage the preparation of business plans for start-up businesses, making significant changes to existing businesses, or launching new products in northeast Wisconsin.

The $25,000 prize isn’t a massive infusion of venture capital, agreed. At the same time, competitions like these smartly leverage the LEDO’s bully pulpit capacity to challenge community members to look inward for economic development. Sometimes, the best ideas are within your own city limits.

WIRED: Alabama-Mississippi lays out its vision November 21, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Economic Development, Innovation, WIRED, Workforce.
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The WIRED staff laid out the four main goals of their 37-county WIRED program to community leaders at Meridian Community College.  This is a good sign, as I was starting to wonder where this high visibility program was headed while other WIRED programs were already distributing grant monies.

• Goal No. 1: Create a regional identity. This means getting all the leaders in the region to focus on a “build it” attitude, rather than a “fix it” attitude. The WIRED team wants people to think regionally, not locally.

• Goal No. 2: Build entrepreneurship and support this by creating people, places and programs that are friendly toward innovation. Celebrate the successes of entrepreneurs.

• Goal No. 3: Create a regionalized worker certification program. What that means: Students who receive training at any of the eight community colleges in the 37-county region have the skills to do a job, but they have something else as well — a certification recognized throughout the region.

And tracking these workers means an incoming business owner can make a call and know how many workers fit their requirements.

• Goal No. 4: Finally, the WIRED team wants to bring the program into the K-12 educational system — provide schools with programs that encourage entrepreneurship, innovation and skills needed for the future.

Are these three questions REALLY simple? November 21, 2006

Posted by Tom in Innovation, Stronger Organizations.
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Principled Innovation, a great blog by Jeff De Cagna for associations and association managers, takes the simplest questions and draws conclusions by how they are answered.  Here’s the post (presented in its entirety so you can understand the context of the entire argument):

This post is simple. I just want to ask you three questions. I hope you will think about them the next time you are involved in a conversation about the future of your association:

1. What are you learning about the future that excites you?
2. What are you learning about the future that concerns you?
3. Are you motivated more by the excitement or the concern?

If you’re motivated more by the concern, you probably prefer to play it safe. If you’re motivated by the excitement, you probably want to innovate. My advice is to not let your concerns about the future drive the future of your association. Leaders know that when excitement drives the organization’s work, great things will happen!

Scott Briscoe of the American Society for Association Executives (ASAE), in the ASAE’s Acronym blog, offers his answers.   Most telling is this selection of his answer to the third question:

My two answers seem to be intertwined quite a bit, but if I had to choose one, I’d guess it’s my motivation around the concern that is fueling the excitement. Almost no one would rather be described as “safe” rather than “innovative,” so I’m hoping that I’m an exception to his last statement. Many of my thoughts on the matter seem anything but safe—up to and including my own job security.

The line between safety and innovation can get blurry as Briscoe indicates.  A little fear for one’s safety can drive a lot of innovation – indeed, has driven innovation throughout the years.

So let me pose the three questions to my readers: When looking at workforce and economic development, what excites and concerns you?  And is it the excitement or the concern that drives the work you do?

I can’t wait to see your comments.  I’m still formulating my answers, and I’ll post in the comments when they crystalize.

Why We Fight – Today’s Edition November 17, 2006

Posted by Tom in Economic Development, Education, Workforce.
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Kudos to Tech Futures for keeping everything in perspective. (Hat tip to Brewed Fresh Daily for the reference to this post.)

An educated citizenry is the single most important tool for rebuilding our region’s economy. No factor correlates more closely to an increase in per capita income than educational attainment. And while the US may still hold a leadership position in many higher education research fields, our greatest challenge is in getting our own kids prepared to take advantage of those higher ed assets. If you don’t even graduate from high school, being surrounded by great colleges won’t help you one bit.

While many non-US citizens come to the US to take advantage of our university resources (and many of these then leave to return home, taking the knowledge they’ve acquired and any future economic spillovers with them), far too many of our own citizens never even make it through high school. Sadly, many of those who do graduate from US high schools find they are ill prepared for US college life—“graduation” shouldn’t mean turning 18 while still reading at a fourth-grade level.

Good stuff.

Going to the moon in a Chevy November 17, 2006

Posted by Tom in Economic Development, Education, Opinion, Workforce.
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I’m fortunate to participate firsthand in the dialogue that our top decisionmakers – both inside and outside the government – are having regarding the alignment of workforce and economic development.  In fact, this week I sat in on such an open-ended discussion.  I don’t want to betray confidences in a planning process that is still under way, but I sensed a theme to our discussion that is worth sharing.

The programmatic restrictions placed our workforce funding streams are incongruous with many of the goals of an aligned system.  This is not a swipe at the federal workforce programming like the Workforce Investment Act or state programs like Indiana’s Training Acceleration Grants.  Both are fine programs that serve a valid purpose.  Problem is, I’m sensing a need to push social marketing in addition to direct training.

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The minimum wage – no longer a federal issue? November 12, 2006

Posted by Tom in Economic Development, Workforce.
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Politics is what it is, and states fill the gap when the federal government doesn’t act. Regardless of your opinion on this issue, there is no question that the minimum wage has an impact on the worlds of economic development and workforce development.

Following is a state-by-state map of minimum wage levels across America:

The states outlined in yellow all passed minimum wage hikes by referendum in the November 2006 elections.  There also is word that the new Congress will enact a federal minimum wage hike in its first 100 hours:

House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has said she’ll make a federal increase a top priority. President Bush has indicated he will work with her on the issue. And Democrats, the biggest supporters of a national raise, now have control of the U.S. House and Senate.

“With the Democrats in control of an issue that’s this popular, I think there’s little question that something will happen,” said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley.

“With the Democrats in control, we should expect to see a clean bill,” Jacobs said. “And a clean bill is something very few people want to be on the wrong side of.”

I appreciate the political popularity of a federal minimum wage hike, but do the feds need to do anything in light of the widespread movement to raise the minimum wage at the state level?